Recently, I took a trip with my husband out to west Texas. He is from San Angelo, which is a “big city” in that part of the state, but we found ourselves farther west than even that. Seven hours west of Houston, three hours west of Austin, is the tiny, one-horse town of Rowena. A town with two gathering places: one a VFW hall and the other, Lord knows what. All the same, two facilities for any kind of celebration or meeting the little town might have, which was confusing to me. Surely, there was no reason for two halls – not in a town this size.
Rowena, itself, was dotted with only a few houses and a couple of stores here and there. With a good arm, you could probably throw a baseball down the length of the main street. But, it was a gathering point for all of the ranchers, farmers and country-living folk in that area. A place to come together for a wedding, birthday party, a graduation, a dance. A place to hold town council meetings. Rowena is small and seemingly remote, but a gathering point nonetheless.
For me, a Flint, Michigan native and proud daughter of blue collar manufacturing, this might as well have been a different planet. I’ve traveled to countries all over the world, rural communities, big cities, suburbs and Medieval walled villages, but I can truly say that I’ve never felt more alien than I did in that quiet part of western Texas.
It wasn’t that the people weren’t friendly – they were. It wasn’t that I couldn’t speak their language; obviously, I could. And yet, I felt like I needed a translator for so many things. I found that I’d never properly imagined what life would be like growing up in the country. In my mind, I swapped in sheep herds and cotton fields and let go of shopping malls, expressways and the whir and grind of my grandfather’s machine shop. I helped prepare potato salad and smoked sausage in the VFW kitchen, and my mind wandered back to Sons of Italy dinners with salad and tomato-and-cheese-covered ziti. I traded in my experiences for the heritage of this place, covered in cotton instead of concrete.
Rowena is where my husband comes from. And when I looked at it through a lens of my own experience, it seemed as though it couldn’t be more different from my own hometown. Not worse or better; just so completely foreign that I felt disconnected from it. In short, no matter the negativity that surrounds Flint at the present moment, I realized I would never trade my roots or my continued hometown pride for the sunshine and endless fields of my husband’s childhood.
I love the diversity of Flint – the restaurants, the museums, the hardworking people. I love the possibility of the city, the expressways, my high school, the University of Michigan-Flint. I love that it prepared me to be the world explorer I’ve become.
After the party at the VFW – his grandfather’s 95th birthday celebration – we drove home. The night sky in the country is unbelievably dark, and the stars are brilliant. The darkness is quiet and the wind is cool, and it’s easy to pretend out there, away from street lamps and city lights, that you’re the only people on earth. There’s a romance to that, certainly, but also a loneliness.
As much as I’ve traveled, and as far as I’ve roamed, it took that starry-skied night in west Texas to break my heart with longing for my Michigan home.